Monday, October 31, 2005

Religio-economics, revelation and reality

Intriguing paper in the latest PAE Review by Mohamed Aslam Haneef of the International Islamic University Malaysia - Can There Be an Economics Based on Religion? The Case of Islamic Economics.

What Haneef discusses goes well beyond the now-familiar area of Islamic banking and finance, the design and study of various instruments that avoid riba (the paying or collecting of interest) and other forbidden acts. It's more to do with a new methodology for economics, based on the Islamic worldview and Islamic law (though the arguments are extensible to other religions and cultures).

It'd be easy to dismiss this as being on a par with Soviet (Lysenkoist) or Christian (Creationist) biology, but there's a clearer case for a culture-specific economics than for a culture-specific version of one of your actual sciences. At the simplest level, religious or social beliefs do affect behaviour, something overlooked in the neoclassical fetish of the rational agent - it's likely more than a matter of just re-bending the indifference curves.

More specifically and intriguingly, there's the question of 'revelation' as a source of economic knowledge, which could prove difficult to the western mindset. Haneef:
Revelation, being a legitimate source of knowledge, will certainly be a source of this vision and of modifying the vision. What revelation has to say about economic behavior and concepts including those related to man, nature, man’s relationship to nature and other humans, as well as those relating to consumption, production, distribution, finance etc. will form a preliminary conceptual framework of Islamic economics. This framework will have to be ‘systematized’ into principles, postulates, hypotheses, precepts and assumptions that will be investigated and validated or otherwise.
For religious based economics’, sense experience does not provide the absolute proof for “truth.” In Islamic methodology, facts must be distinguished from truth. While “proofs” from sense experience have certain authority, in Islamic epistemology, secondary sources cannot escape the criteria and proofs from revelation. ‘Reality’ will include revelation.

There's some tricky issues here, but Haneef aligns the case for a religious economics with the broader arguments in the West for an 'ethical' economics and a more pluralist approach to what can be easily painted as a doctrine-laden secular religion. But as he concludes:
While we hope that this paper has tried to show that there can be a religious based economics, whether or not there should be a religious based economics is another, potentially more sensitive question that I leave to another occasion.


Friday, October 21, 2005

Gods of the silver screen

Good regeneration story in the Economist on new uses for old buildings - in particular, churches becoming flats, libraries, pubs, beauty salons or climbing centres; and cinemas (not least those secular cathedrals built in the moviehouse boom of the 1930s) becoming, what else, churches -

Some of the people who run the churches even think that the exotic architecture of the old cinemas helps to attract new recruits, and are prepared to spend a lot of money restoring them. “When a person comes in for the very first time, the looks of the church break the ice,” says Pastor Paul Hill of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in Finsbury Park. The church has been busily restoring the cinema's intricate interior, which was designed to give the feel of sitting under the stars in a Spanish village. “When they realise the beauty of the building and its lack of connection with religion, they feel good about it,” says Mr Hill.

The future of such Yorkshire landmarks as Sheffield's Abbeydale Picture House and Bradford's New Victoria (better known now as the old Odeon) remains in doubt, sadly. A local lobby group is trying to preserve the former as a community centre, while the latter is facing demolition as part of the city centre regeneration programme. They are worth saving, I reckon.

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The regeneration of Elsie Whiteley

Welcome news for Halifax, with developers of the Elsie Whiteley Innovation Centre confirming that the centre will open for business in July next year.

This is the redevelopment of one of the area's many textile mills, to create a new centre for growing businesses. It's a long overdue development for the town - in neighbouring Huddersfield, the Media Centre has done much to nurture businesses and bring a little life back into the town centre, reflected in Huddersfield's recent inclusion in a list of the UK's most creative towns (alongside Hebden Bridge and Sheffield, naturally).

The Media Centre was established in 1995 with public sector funding, but is now self-supporting. The Halifax scheme is a long way off that, of course - it's currently backed by the regional development agency Yorkshire Forward, Calderdale borough council, and a dollop of European funding. As well as supporting new businesses (particularly, though I hope not too exclusively, in the 'digital and new media' industries), it's also intended to revive a part of town desperately in need of some new investment - the Elsie Whiteley mill is sandwiched between the arse-end of the town centre and the poor communities of west Halifax, alongside the less-than-graceful Burdoch Way flyover, a location that may well deter some potential tenants. It is however well positioned to benefit from links with the Dean Clough complex, a thriving proof that there can be new life in those old dark, satanic mills.

For a 2003 overview of developments in Halifax and Huddersfield, including Dean Clough and the Media Centre, see here.

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Monday, October 10, 2005

Life is like a cup of tea

A charming line of reasoning from expert witnesses in the Pennsylvania 'Intelligent Design' case, as reported in The Economist:

The plaintiffs have carefully called expert witnesses who believe not only in the separation of church and state but also in God. Mr [Kenneth] Miller [author of a biology textbook] is a practising Roman Catholic. So is John Haught, a theology professor who testified on September 30th that life is like a cup of tea.

To illustrate the difference between scientific and religious “levels of understanding”, Mr Haught asked a simple question. What causes a kettle to boil? One could answer, he said, that it is the rapid vibration of water molecules. Or that it is because one has asked one's spouse to switch on the stove. Or that it is “because I want a cup of tea.” None of these explanations conflicts with the others. In the same way, belief in evolution is compatible with religious faith: an omnipotent God could have created a universe in which life subsequently evolved.

It makes no sense, argued the professor, to confuse the study of molecular movements by bringing in the “I want tea” explanation. That, he argued, is what the proponents of intelligent design are trying to do when they seek to air their theory—which he called “appalling theology”—in science classes.

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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Hotel architecture

Over at, I've put up a few photos from my recent sojourn at the Heathrow Hilton. It's one of JG Ballard's favourite sites, as he often mentions in interviews:
"It is my favourite building in London, and keeps alive the spirit of the 20th century’s greatest architect, Le Corbusier. Beautifully proportioned, it resembles a cross between a brain surgery hospital and a space station. I am always supremely happy in its vast atrium, and I wait for the day when the whole of London resembles this future classic."

The cocktail bar serves a mean mohito too.

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